My friend Michael and I were having a conversation about the coffee industry, recently. Michael runs a small independent coffee shop in Carlyle, SK that is among the best coffee shops in Canada. In particular, we were discussing the unique culture among what are known as “3rd Wave Coffee shops”. These are shops which are on the bleeding edge of quality and innovation. Often travelling to origin to build direct relationships with coffee farmers, and roasting coffee themselves to ensure the highest level of quality, freshness, ethics and ultimately, flavour.
I was telling Michael about Gwilym Davies, the 2009 World Barista Champion (He made the best cup of espresso in 2009, basically.). Gwilym ran one of a handful of the best coffee shops in London, UK. In 2009, Gwilym did something that surprised everyone in the industry. He started giving out disloyalty cards (James Hoffman wrote a short explanation here: Click Me). Customers were to take the card to 8 other shops around Central and East London, buy a coffee at each establishment, and return to Gwilym’s shop for a free beverage made by the best barista in the world. Why would he promote his competition? Simple. He believed in the work. He believed that good coffee was worth sharing and celebrating, and he believed that if independent shops were going to gain any ground in the fight against corporate coffee, they’d need to stop competing and start collaborating. When I told Michael this he said, “Of course! That’s what everyone in the industry is saying. ‘Collaboration is the New Competition.'”
I’ve been thinking about how this applies to my work. As much as I’ve been able, I’ve tried to shine a light on the work of other artists as much as on my own. I’ve volunteered to bring other artists I respect and admire to share their music with my community, and to help them out, financially. Sometimes these artists have asked me to open for them or come onstage and share a song, but I usually turn them down. I don’t do it to forge alliances or ride their coattails, or even with the expectation of them returning the favour. I do it because I believe in the work. As I wrote in a previous blog post (Here), I believe in beauty, in building community and I believe that artists have so much to offer the church in these areas. I believe in that more than I believe in my own career. In fact, if I had the business skills or the necessary gifting, I’d give up my own career to help other artists advance theirs. At the very least, I don’t believe that to advance in this world, you have to step on others. You can “Lift While You Climb” (I really wish I’d coined that phrase, but it comes from a stewardship study our church is going through).
I think as things become more difficult for artists who are in the same sphere as me, there needs to be a paradigm shift. Either we can continue on, each building our own fragile little empires, or we can start collaborating to build something larger. I’ve recently been wondering if there wouldn’t be a benefit in pulling together a small Canadian indie label of like minded Christian artists, since to my knowledge, none exists today.
I guess the question I want to pose to other artists is “Do you believe in the work?”, and if so, are you contributing to it in ways that do not directly benefit your own career?
I would strongly encourage other artists to host concerts. I know for myself the experience has been valuable. I spend an incredible amount of time asking people to host my concerts. It’s helpful for me to understand just what I’m asking them and how much work is involved. It’s also been helpful for me to see how other artists promote their shows. I’ve gleaned a lot of helpful hints and information that’s helped me. But I’ve also shown my community that there is good Christian music out there. It’s not all the vacuous worship music, so many Christians complain about. Nor is it all Southern Gospel (this is not a slam against Southern Gospel. I’m just saying there are other genres out there.). There are thoughtful artists and songwriters out there with fresh original music that deserves an audience. I think that by hosting these concerts, it’s made my community more receptive to going to hear unknown artists, and that makes things better for everyone. Imagine if we had more of that across Canada. It would sure make things easier.
So that’s my challenge to other artists. Find some way to boost another artist, and contribute to the larger work of sharpening the Church through beauty and song. “Lift While You Climb”. Because competition is the old way of doing things, and it’s not making things easier for anyone.
“Collaboration is the new Competition”, and it’s time we all started to recognize that.
And if you’re looking for some other great artists to check out, try these guys: Dan Bremnes, Jordan St. Cyr, Jennifer Jade Kerr, Steve Bell, Jacob Moon, Carolyn Arends, Amanda Cook, The Doll Sisters, Brennan Sinclair, Sharlene Olson, Brock Tyler, Nathan Carroll, Ali Matthews to name a few.